HL Deb 19 July 1960 vol 225 cc487-500

3.58 p.m.

Committee stage resumed.


May I ask the Lord Chairman a question on a technical point? Am I right in thinking that he is going to put to the House first Amendment No. 1, and then Amendment No. 3? Would it not be more logical if he took No. 3 first, so that the House can decide whether it wishes to proceed with this clause at all? I think it would be more comprehensible if we could vote on No. 3 before No. 1.


The answer is, no. I am following the usual procedure, and the Amendments have been set out in the Order Paper in accordance with the usual customs and Orders of the House. As I have already explained, there was a pure mistake: No. 2 was inadvertently put above No. 3. In fact No. 2 concerns Clause 2. As regards Amendments Nos. 1 and 3 it is proper for No. 1 to be taken first, and that is the procedure I propose to follow.


I am much obliged.


If I may speak for a moment on Amendments Nos. 1 and 3, may I first say that I give the fullest support to the words of my noble friend Lord Swinton? It is quite clear that if we agreed to Amendment No. 1 we should be back where we were and should have young people of sixteen able to ride very fast powerful motor cycles.


Is the noble Lord correct? If Clause 2 is passed and the Bill goes through with Clause 2, that would not be quite accurate, because in Clause 2 there is a proviso that provisional licences are limited to the riding of 250 c.c. motor cycles.


I am talking of Clause 1. With regard to Amendment No. 1, I should like to make one observation on the words which fell from the noble Lord, Lord Elton. If I may say so, with great respect, I think that, to put it mildly, he exaggerated the case. We have heard him before on these matters. I would point out to the noble Lord that a 50 c.c. motor-assisted bicycle goes no faster than a young man on a bicycle pedalling himself with his head down.

A relative of mine stopped and a chap on an ordinary bicycle pedalled straight into the back of him, because he had his head down and was pedalling hard. I have a feeling that one might consider whether it is not safer for someone to go along with his head up, assisted by a mere 50 c.c. of engine power, than to pedal hard and so wobble all over the place—instances of which one often sees on the roads to-day.


I should like to say a few words in support of my noble friend Lord Aberdare. I heartily agree with what the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, said. I think it is a very good thing indeed that the youth of this country should have an opportunity, between the ages of fifteen and sixteen, to drive a mechanically propelled vehicle of a low power, instead of one which exceeds 50 c.c. May I be permitted to relate a personal experience? I owned a moped before I had reached the age of sixteen. I might add that it was not in this country, and therefore I was not infringing the law. I consider that I gained a certain amount of road sense. But in spite of that, when I reached the age of sixteen and was given a higher-powered motor cycle, and was therefore tempted to go further afield, I had two accidents in a short space of time. One of them could have been very serious indeed and I might have lost my life. I did not; I was only hurt. The fact that I was only hurt and not killed arose from the fact that I had driven a mechanically propelled vehicle—in other words, a moped—previous to owning a proper motor cycle. That is one reason why, on this question of experience, I think it is a good thing for a youngster of fifteen to gain experience; then, when he reaches the age of sixteen, he should drive nothing larger than a motor cycle powered up to 250 c.c. It is for those reasons that I support the Amendment of my noble friend Lord Aberdare.


I should like to say one thing. The noble Lord, Lord Elton, told us that no Government had done anything towards reducing casualties on the roads. Whose fault is that?


May I just say that I said that this Government had done nothing really effective. I did not say "no Government".


Nothing really effective to stop road accidents. Here was a Committee set up in 1955, I think, to study one particular aspect. They reported in 1957. Their Report was followed up by a detailed survey conducted under the auspices of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, and that Report, which was completed in 1959, is the one that recommended the course of action which is embodied in this Bill. If noble Lords are going to disregard the evidence collected by bodies set up for the purpose, we cannot blame anybody but ourselves. If the Government set up a highly qualified Committee and, after considering their Report, express agreement by the introduction of this Bill, I for one should be content to accept that and agree with the course suggested.

I should like to comment on what my noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth said. He quoted figures. He said, first, that this Bill was based on evidence collected as long ago as 1957. As I have mentioned, that is not the case, because the evidence was collected between 1957 and 1959. Secondly, my noble friend quoted a large number of figures about mopeds. I should like to ask him how the figures regarding the mileage of mopeds were collected, and on whose authority he quoted them.


May I correct one thing that my noble friend has said? This Bill is not based wholly upon the survey. The noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, said in his Second Reading speech that it was based upon the recommendations of the Committee on Road Safety, which reported in July, 1957.


Road further.


Yes. He said that it was not wholly based upon the public opinion survey, or the opinion survey that followed. The statistics I quoted were the official statistics issued jointly by the Ministry of Transport and the Road Research Laboratory. I understand that the Road Research Laboratory now have a scientific, or a pseudo-scientific method of calculating the mileage done by every class of road vehicle. That is where these figures that I quoted right the way through came from—the Ministry of Transport official return.


It seems to me that the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, put this position most clearly; and he put it as the general sense of the House: that we should like to leave out Clause 1 altogether, but if we do that these young people of sixteen will be able to go straight on to the more dangerous sort of motor cycle without previous experience. Therefore he said, would it not be better to accept the Amendment. But am I not right in saying that what many of your Lordships want is to prevent young people of fifteen from going on the roads on any sort of motorised vehicle, and also to prevent young people of sixteen from riding the machines they are at present allowed to ride? It seems to me that we shall have an opportunity under Clause 2 of discussing an Amendment which also seeks to limit the lethal potentialities of people of sixteen by limiting their capacity for slaughter to machines of 50 c.c. Therefore, if we do leave out Clause 1 altogether, we can then do for the child of fifteen what Lord Elton is anxious to do—in which I entirely support him—and then proceed to limit the people of sixteen to a machine slightly less dangerous than that to which they are entitled now. Therefore, I suggest that we can very well leave out Clause 1 altogether, and I hope that your Lordships will vote in that sense.

4.8 p.m.


I think perhaps it would now be convenient if I joined in this debate. If I have heard aright what noble Lords have said, it seems to me that I have a little work to do. I think I had better perhaps begin by talking about mopeds, the word "moped" and what it means, because it has a bearing in two ways. It enables me, first of all, to make a more accurate assessment of the Amendment proposed by my noble friend Lord Aberdare, and at the same time it enables me to explain to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, a point as to what happened to this Bill in another place.

Referring only to the Amendment for the moment, what I think makes this Amendment acceptable is its drafting. The power to reduce the age would be restricted to motor cycles of an engine size of no greater than 50 c.c. and equipped with pedals which can be used for propulsion. I know that they are supposed to help you up the hills and to start off; but the purpose of including them is to define a machine on which the rider sits upright. As I understand it, that is the main purpose, because in that position he has the best view of the road, and also in that position there is automatically some limit on the ultimate speed, such as it is, that the machine can attain on a level road.

The noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, said that if this Amendment were accepted it would restore the position to that in another place where an Amendment to remove mopeds from this clause was accepted. But it would not quite do so. It had nothing at all to do with tying the hands of the Government or the Minister, and it was not for that reason that mopeds were moved out of Clause 1. The reason was that they were there referred to as mopeds, fact, this vehicle has an international definition. It is defined in Annexe 1 to the Convention on Road Traffic which was drawn up at Geneva in 1949 in connection with machines which "shall not be considered as motor vehicles". Other countries have views very different from ours on the riding of mopeds. We in this country did not accept that Annexe; and, furthermore, those countries who did so subsequently agreed to change the definition so as to exclude the need for pedals. As a result "moped" became a completely objectionable term to be used in a Bill of this kind, because it would have defined the wrong machine in relation to the definition it already has under an international Convention. The fact is that the machine which the noble Lord wishes to be used by younger people (if that is to be) is well, and I believe safely, defined in this Amendment.

At an earlier stage I said, and my right honourable friend has said elsewhere, that he would not exercise the power to reduce the minimum age for riding motor cycles, even those of not more than 50 c.c., until he was satisfied that it was safe to do so. I feel that I must clarify that statement. I thought that I had already done so, but I may have led—or misled—the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, into thinking that I said Her Majesty's Government were going to have nothing to do with that. I do not believe that that is what I did say. I believe I said that my right honourable friend did not propose to use this power until he was really sure that it was safe to do so. I must clarify this completely because if I do not do so it may be thought, on the other hand, that the accusation could be levelled against the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, that he was endeavouring to legislate a dead letter; and I do not think that that is the case.

The survey of accidents to riders aged under 21 which was made during the summer of 1958 indicated that smaller machines of engine capacity of less than 60 c.c. were safer than large machines. It is difficult to determine what particular feature of the small machine seems to make them safer. It may be simply their size or their relatively low performance. That leads on to the conclusion which has been mentioned by various noble Lords: that experience is more important than age; that it is the first six months that counts; and, furthermore, that a Gradation from small to larger machines at a later stage is desirable and is in the interests of road safety. My noble friends Lord Swinton and Lord Merrivale supported that view. The noble Lord, Lord Elton, did not. I can only think that his remarks, if he was really confining to this Government his opinion that nothing has been done towards road safety, constitute the most shattering indictment of all previous Governments. But perhaps that is for us to discuss on another occasion.


My Lords, what I thought I said, and certainly meant to say, was that nothing as yet effective had been done by this Government or this Parliament. I was not speaking of all previous Governments, or saying that nothing had been done. I was saying that nothing effective had been done; and since we understand that casualties are still rising that seems to be almost self-proved.


My Lords, I do not think this is the moment to go into that. The noble Lord said nothing effective had been done; and he confined his remarks to the present Government, and excluded others. I re-challenge that, but that will be for another day, not now.

There is some reason to think that there is at least an arguable case that a contribution to road safety can be made by this move. On the other hand, as the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, has pointed out, the most recent figures for motor-cycle accidents suggest that in fact there has been an increase in the accident rate for the lighter type of machine; and there I am bound to agree. The rate seems to be rising on the rate for heavier machines. The point here is that we certainly need more information on the matter before we can feel that a decision to reduce the age could be based on sound grounds.

If I may look into the crystal ball a little, if there was to be a lowering of the age it might possibly be in connection with a later Road Safety Bill—and I actually said to Lord Lucas of Chilworth that that might come in "a later Session" not "in the next Session". Such a Bill might contain some broad scheme, because my right honourable friend already has powers to classify and test drivers, by further classifications than are at present used, according to the size of the machine ridden. It would be perfectly possible to do that. If it were found, in due course, to be worth while encouraging riders to get their first experience on a light-type machine at an earlier age, a change of that kind might be a contribution to road safety.

To sum up, I believe that Lord Aberdare's Amendment would give my right honourable friend added flexibility in what he could do in conjunction with those powers he already has, and it seems to me that on balance it might be useful to have this power, possibly as part of a broader over-all scheme in due course. I believe therefore that if your Lordships saw fit to accept the Amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Aberdare and not to accept the Amendment standing in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, that would appear not an unreasonable course.


The noble Lord has said that if we accept this Amendment it will give his right honourable friend more flexibility. Would he permit me to say that it would have exactly the reverse effect? It would tie his hands while it was on the Statute Book, because he would be unable to allow a child of fifteen years of age to ride any type of motor cycle unless it had pedals. So if the manufacturers bring out a 50 c.c. motor cycle—Hand they are now down to 100 c.c.—without pedals and pedalling gear, the Minister's hands are tied and he will be unable to allow that. That was the argument put up by his joint colleague in the other place—that the Minister wanted flexibility to take advantage of increases in technical knowledge during this coming two or three years.


it was precisely for that reason that I made some rather heavy play with this business of pedals. The pedals, in fact, are all important. I do not see how the Minister is going to be so very tied by this. Admittedly, it would inhibit him if and when he made an Order to reduce the age. It would mean that there have to be pedals with the machine. As I have said, that is a good thing. This is one of those things which militate against turning the thing into a "high-speed flyer", which the noble Lords fear. If there are pedals (I do not know whether the noble Lord has tried it, but I have), it is extraordinarily difficult to sit on the machine in a way other than upright. So one can see where one is going, and the natural resistance to the body of the wind would further limit speed by automatically stopping the machine from getting up to any high need. That is the important part, and I do not regard that as tying the Minister's hands at all.


If I may speak again, with the Committee's permission, as I originally spoke on my own Amendment and have not had a chance of sneaking on that of the noble Lord. Lord Lucas of Chilworth, I should like to thank my noble friend Lord Chesham for his help and assistance and for accepting this Amendment on behalf of Her Majesty's Government. I should like to defend myself and the sponsors of this Bill against the charge that we are throwing fifteen-year-olds into the dangers of the roads. The facts are that these fifteen-year-olds are already exposed to the dangers of the roads on their pedal cycles. All we are suggesting is that at fifteen they might graduate to a motor-assisted pedal cycle. But we are, as my noble friend Lord Chesham has emphasised, insisting that there are pedals, so that these machines do not become dangerous in any way. From the point of view of the average motor-car driver, they are, I think, a safer proposition than even an ordinary pedal cycle. The pedal cyclist is very likely to swerve as his leg muscles tire; but most of our impressions of the moped are of a fairly steady, serene progress, with the driver with his head in the air. Certainly I should think that a moped was a rather safer vehicle at night, as its lighting is much better.

As my noble friend Lord Chesham has said, we are quite content to leave this matter with the Minister. We give him the opportunity of getting a gradation from the fifteen-year-old with a moped to the sixteen-year-old beginning with a light motor cycle of under 250 c.c., and finally to the heavy motor cycle. That is all we are aiming at, and we are quite happy to leave this clause giving the Minister power to make the decision

Clause 1, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 2:

Provisional licences not to authorise driving of heavy motor cycles

2. A provisional licence granted under section one hundred and two of the Road Traffic

whether, and when, it should be introduced.

4.28 p.m.

LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH moved to leave out Clause 1. The noble Lord said: I have proceeded in the way I have only because it has been conveyed to me that a number of noble Lords did not want this clause in at all: they would prefer to Divide the House on the second Amendment, to leave the clause out. I do not think it is necessary for me to make another speech. I will merely move the Amendment that stands in my name. Of course, any other noble Lord may speak if he desires.

Amendment moved— Leave out Clause 1.—(Lord Lucas of Chilworth.)

On Question, Whether the said Amendment shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 37 Not-Contents, 39.

Ailwyn, L. Fortescue, E. Pakenham, L.
Airedale, L. Greenhill, L. Rusholme, L.
Albemarle, E. Hastings, L. Silkin, L.
Amulree, L. Hawke, L. Sinha, L.
Amwell, L. Henderson, L. Stansgate, V.
Atholl, D. Killearn, L. Stonham, L.
Barnby, L. Latham, L. Taylor, L.
Burden, L. Limerick, E. Terrington, L.
Conesford, L. Long, V. Teviot, L.
Dalton, L. Lucas of Chilworth, L. [Teller.] Uvedale of North End, L.
Derwent, L. Merthyr, L. Williams, L.
Elton, L. [Teller.] Meston, L. Wise, L.
Ferrers, E.
Aberdare, L. [Teller.] Dynevor, L. Merrivale, L.
Auckland, L. Gifford, L. Newall, L.
Baldwin of Bewdley, E. Goschen, V. Onslow, E.
Bathurst, E. Granville-West, L. Reading, M.
Beauchamp, E. Haddington, E. St. Aldwyn, E.
Bossom, L. Iddesleigh, E. St. Oswald, L.
Brecon, L. Jessel, L. Soulbury, V.
Buckinghamshire, E. Lambert, V. Spens, L.
Chesham, L. Lansdowne, M. Stratheden and Campbell, L.
Cottesloe, L. Lucan, E. Swinton, E.
Craigton, L. MacAndrew, L. Tenby, V.
Digby, L. [Teller.] McCorquodale of Newton, L. Torrington, V.
Dovercourt, L. Margesson, V. Waleran, L.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Act, 1960, on or after the first day of July, nineteen hundred and sixty-one, shall not authorise the driving of a motor cycle whereof the cylinder capacity of the engine exceeds two hundred and fifty cubic centimetres.

4.39 p.m.

LORD WALERAN moved, after "motor cycle "to insert"(other than a motor cycle with a side-car attached)".

The noble Lord said: The Amendment standing in my name is really very simple. I think it is right to assume that one does not want a motor cycle combination with a very small engine. It does not do its job properly; and I think that the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, would agree with me that to have a small engine on a side-car combination is undesirable. It makes people try to go faster, and involves driving in a way that is undesirable for this type of vehicle. I think it is fairly safe to say that most people who want to buy a motor cycle and side-car want something comfortable, with good mechanical characteristics, which will go along at a reasonable speed, and which is safe for the carriage of children. The points in favour, if you take them in isolation, which I think is the correct way, are that a motor cycle combination is essentially a safe vehicle. It is true to say that the majority of insurance companies give a 50 per cent. reduction in premium as compared with a policy for a solo motor cycle of the same cubic capacity. There is no need for me to say that insurance companies are very careful and would not give this reduction if a motor cycle combination was not a good deal safer.

The third point is that anybody learning to drive a motor cycle with side-car attached has to have a qualified driver beside him. That takes care of the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, that with a solo motor cycle one could just tie an "L" plate on one's back and go off. I think it is only fair and just that people who want a motor cycle with side-car attached should have the right type of machine, if it is safe. The only possible objection I can see to which the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, may refer is that on the present form of driving licence, group (g) reads: Motor cycles with or without a side-car. I am sure that such an administrative detail can be overcome. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 1, line 14, after ("cycle") insert ("(other than a motor cycle with a side-car attached)".—(Lord Waleran.)


May I support my noble friend's Amendment? It is clearly sensible not to limit the power of a motor bicycle when a side-car is attached. I think it is important that the Minister should deal with the form of the driving licence. At the moment, I understand that one can take a test on a motor cycle and side-car and, having passed the test, straight away go on a solo cycle. Clearly, that is wrong. But I should have thought that to put in an extra category, perhaps (gs), would be perfectly simple. I would commend this Amendment, which serves a useful purpose.


May I say, on behalf of the sponsors of the Bill, that we are prepared to accept this Amendment. We understood, when the Bill was in another place, that the Minister would be excepting motor cycle combinations when it came to making regulations, and that the Government do not wish to be tied down to, this exception in the words which were in the original Bill. I am happy to accept this Amendment.


I think that I should also say something about this Amendment. It gives me some regret—because I have considerable sympathy with this Amendment—to say that I do not believe that your Lordships should accept it. My noble friend Lord Waleran has made an attractive case. The fact that you can get a 50 per cent. reduction in insurance premium by fitting a side-car, because safety is enhanced thereby, is, on the face of it, a convincing argument. The fact that a qualified driver can go along is also an attractive argument. But I am bound to say that there are some important objections. The first objection relates to the type of side-car. There are a number of side-cars which, for want of a better term, I would say have saloon bodies. They have closed tops, solid over the passenger. And the qualified driver accompanying a learner is virtually incommunicado, and certainly unable to help if things went wrong. A qualified driver in a car, in an emergency, can switch off the ignition or take over the wheel or put on the hand brake or do something else, but in a closed side-car, he can do nothing, probably not even shout advice to the driver.

Secondly, the legal requirement for a qualified driver to be with a learner applies only provided the side-car has a seat for the passenger. The noble Lord's Amendment would not be valid in the case of a machine fitted with a commercial box sidecar. A learner could go and buy himself a heavy machine and fit to it a side-car with a carrying body and so get a licence. I think that that is very little safer than if he simply were to buy himself a heavy solo machine. The third objection is one already mentioned by my noble friend Lord Derwent—that is, that a learner could borrow his father's heavy machine with its side-car, learn to ride that and take his test on it, and go straight on to a heavy solo machine. Therefore, it seems to me that the Amendment would enable the safety provisions desired by the clause to be evaded, and I do not think that your Lordships should accept it.


I am not very satisfied by the answer that the noble Lord has given. I think that in his second argument he is not on very sound grounds. I think that safety is in the "nature of the beast". A side-car, whether big or small, can lean only in one way and makes it awkward to handle the machine. That is why it is inherently safe. If the noble Lord could look a little further into this point, I should be glad, otherwise I shall have to raise this again. I will not press it at the moment.


Once the Government start shelving their own responsibilities, they get into a muddle. This is not a Government Bill. The sponsors accept this Amendment and the noble Lord does not withdraw it. Is the Minister going to divide the House? It will be interesting to see.


The noble Lord is perfectly right: it is my noble friend's Bill, not mine. I am certainly not going to divide the House. But it is usual for the Government spokesman to give the Government's view on these occasions, and I have given it.


I appreciate it.


Because I have been pulled up for this before, I tried to make my advice to the Committee quite specific. I said that I thought that your Lordships should reject this Amendment. I do not think that your Lordships would want me to be more specific than that. In reply to what my noble friend Lord Waleran said, I would say that a learner of sixteen years of age on a machine of 500 or 650 c.c., with a light box side-car with nothing in it attached, fills me with greater dread than if he were on a machine without a side-car. And I have had a little experience of these matters. I agree that basically there is a good deal in my noble friend's argument, but there are these exceptions and objections which I think make the Amendment unacceptable. It is not for me to look at the matter again, but I feel fairly certain that if I did I should not see anything different.


I appreciate the noble Lord's giving the Committee advice, but the noble Lord, Lord Waleran, who moved the Amendment, was asking the noble Lord to take a second look at it on behalf of the Government. It has nothing to do with the Government; it is the sponsor's Bill. Why not stick to accepting it? It is the same as the other Amendment. The Government will not do anything about it. We are only cluttering up the Bill with another Amendment which the Government will alter at a future date. Two is as good as one.


May I ask whether the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, would feel any happier if the noble Lord, Lord Waleran, were to amend the Amendment so that it read, "other than a motor cycle with a passenger-carrying side-car attached"?


Does the noble Lord ask leave to withdraw the Amendment?


I think it would possibly be better, in view of what has been said, if I withdrew the Amendment now, with the reservation that we might look into this matter and put the Amendment down again at a later stage.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


I have received a message from the noble Lord, Lord Somers, indicating that he does not wish to move Amendment No. 4 on the Marshalled List.

Clause 2 agreed to.

Remaining clause agreed to.

House resumed.